Floods of Ukrainian refugees seek new life in Russia

Tue Oct 7, 2014 8:18am EDT
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By Olesya Astakhova

BELGOROD Russia (Reuters) - After three days trapped in a cellar by shelling, Svetlana and Sergei Divenko left their home in eastern Ukraine and fled to Russia with their two children and a single bag.

The two-day, 250-km (150-mile) car journey from the city of Slaviansk to the quiet provincial city of Belgorod in June was the most hazardous of their life, taking them across territory hit by fighting and through six checkpoints.

"My son may never pick up a toy gun again. The children had guns pointed at them at checkpoints. They were pale with fear," said Svetlana Divenko, a 28-year-old housewife.

But like many other Russian-speaking east Ukrainians, discontent with the economic situation at home and resentful of Ukraine's Western-looking leaders, the Divenko family headed to Russia not only to seek safety but in search of a better life.

The United Nations says more than 1 million people have been displaced by the conflict. A Russian immigration official last week also put the number of Ukrainian refugees now in Russia at 1 million although Ukrainian officials say the number is vastly exaggerated by Moscow for political reasons.

Russia wants to use the refugee crisis to show its humane side to Western nations critical of its conduct over Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists in the Russian-speaking east rose up against government forces in mid-April.

The refugees have been greeted warmly by their fellow Russian Orthodox Slavs, offered shelter and some given jobs.

Many were initially housed in tents in refugee camps near the border. Some found temporary homes in the apartments of sympathetic Russians and others have made their way to areas long distances from the border, including cities close to Moscow and in the North Caucasus and far east.   Continued...

People gather outside an office of the Russian federal migration service in Belgorod in this June 9, 2014 file photo.    REUTERS/Vladimir Kornev/Files